This Disco-Era Spaceship Can Still Survive The Australian Outback
Story and Photography by Sam Poynter
Within a few weeks of moving to Perth, Australia, I realised that my legs weren’t up to commuting on a bicycle every day, and I was going to need a car. My automotive tastes are somewhat idiosyncratic: if I was to buy something, it had to be suitably removed from the mainstream to keep my interest. After abortive test drives of a Range Rover, BMW E28, W140 Mercedes and Volvo 740 Turbo estate, I came across an advert for a Citroën CX.
It had the unusual specification of being a 25 GTI, the last of the series 1 cars with a 2500-cc slant-4 engine and 5-speed manual transmission…and tired-but-presentable white paint. I was sure that there couldn’t have been too many in that specification, and something was ringing a bell. I called Bill, the seller, and got chatting.
“It’s been well-maintained and reliable. I bought the car from a chap in Tasmania, and drove it across the Nullabor…”
I promptly interrupted him, “That would be Peter’s old car, then?”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. I have had several Peugeots in my native Tasmania, including a late-model 205 GTI that was tucked under a car cover for weekend shenanigans. I remember seeing Peter and his CX at car displays and discussing the subtle modifications he had made, including a remote oil filter that simplified the difficult task of routine oil changes. There was now little doubt that the car was to be mine.
Bill collected me from the train station, and I had a brief drive to familiarise myself with the marshmallow-soft suspension, powered steering and super sharp brakes that threatened to acquaint the passengers with the inside of the windshield on every application. As I drove away, I dropped the throwaway line that I’d probably drive it back to Tasmania one day.
It wasn’t that I deliberately set out to re-create Citroën’s Coast-to-Coast promotional video, but I wasn’t enjoying working in Perth. A job opportunity opened up in Melbourne, and before I knew it, I’d accepted and needed to start in a matter of days. This meant only one thing: a road trip.
My girlfriend Bec flew over from Hobart, and we rendezvoused at a colleague’s house where I’d been staying. With the CX purring in the driveway like a Huey on the roof of an embassy, we piled our suitcases and other possessions on board (including the bicycle…) and made our escape.
Our first stop was Dunsborough, where Bec’s aunt and uncle had a holiday house. John watched us pull up…then put his hand on my shoulder and said: “You’re a brave man”. He is a keen Alfisti, so I took the comment with a grain of salt. My father had traversed the route many years earlier, before the road was sealed. He took a Jowett Jupiter; a small flat-four roadster. Comparatively, I had it easy.
From Dunsborough, the scrubland opened up to the dry, open plains and huge sky of southern Australia. The CX was fitted with front and rear air conditioning, but the refrigerant gas had escaped a long time ago. These cars are renowned for poor cabin ventilation, which wasn’t helped by the fact that only two of the electric windows worked. Fortunately, the engine wasn’t stressed running at 110 km/h (68 mph) all day long—sometimes we’d cover 900 km, about 560 miles, in that time—so the coolant and oil didn’t get as hot as the passengers.
Dark storm clouds chased us across the continent, but our magic carpet floated past road trains, several emus and the odd snake warming itself on the road. Interspersed with landing strips for the Royal Flying Doctor Service that services remote Australia, we tackled the longest straight road in Australia, 146 km (90 miles), in a single step. As there was clear vision for miles ahead, we would sit the car on the crown of the road, the hydraulic DIRAVI steering requiring no input to track straight. You could drive with your hands off the wheel for many minutes at a time.
Waves and smiles from other motorists were frequent, as a 30 year old Citroën isn’t a common sight in these parts. Not one to get complacent, I checked the car thoroughly every morning. I needed to re-tension the alternator belt at Cocklebiddy and add a cupful of oil most days, but until that point, we hadn’t had any trouble.
That changed quickly once we crossed the Victorian border, when two cylinders dropped out as Bec was driving. A frayed low-tension wire to the coil was the culprit, which was quickly taped up. Fortunately, that was the only real trouble we had, and our bug-splattered charge coasted up to our hotel in Melbourne without any complaints. We covered just under 4,000 km (2,485 miles), with fuel consumption around 10 L/100 km (23 US mpg).
The ride was supremely comfortable and had the air conditioning been working, there wouldn’t have been a better choice of vehicle for the trip. Citroën’s CX truly is a continent-crushing car, just as the promotional video suggested—we didn’t even need the mobile spares parts car travelling in our shadow!